IDSA and Public Diplomacy - Speech by Dr. Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA at HOM’s Conference, New Delhi
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  • September 16, 2012

    Event: Fourth Conference of Heads of Missions, MEA, GOI

    Mr Chairman


    I would like to thank the MEA for the invitation to speak at the annual HOM’s conference. I welcome this opportunity and see it as sign of growing partnership between the MEA and think tanks about which the Foreign Secretary had spoken about on the opening day.

    In recent years, MEA has taken several commendable initiatives to reach out to the strategic community and public at large. These initiatives have been warmly welcomed by the public. The public image of MEA and diplomats being sitting in the ivory tower, removed form reality, is changing. The PD, PP and R and other divisions of the MEA have reached out to think tank community and universities. These initiatives are contributing toward demystification of foreign policy and foreign policy making process. The MEA has also got inputs from the ground. As was mentioned by the FS and EAM, foreign policy has to become responsive to ground realties in the country. In this context, the two way interaction between the MEA and research and academic community needs to be welcomed, supported and deepened further.

    Role of a think tank

    The UNDP defines a think tank as a “bridge between policy and power”. There ought to be a close relationship between policy makers and think tanks. The universe of think tanks is expanding. With the end of the cold war, the ongoing transition in international order, the rise of new security challenges, and emergence of new policy issues, the role of think tanks is growing. Think thank community is also forming networks among themselves. Think tank gatherings and summits are becoming more frequent. These days thinks tanks across the world are routinely ranked for their effectiveness in influencing policy. The university of Pennsylvania annually ranks nearly 6500 think tanks around the world including those in India. Last year IDSA ranked 24th among Asia’s top think tanks. The IDSA was also ranked as one of the best twenty government-affiliated think tanks in the world.

    The broad role of a think tank is to conduct policy research, critique existing policies and provide alternative options for policy makers. In the process they generate public debate and create awareness on important issues by providing platform for discussion and articulation for diverse view points. Quality and visibility are important for effective functioning of a think tank.

    Think-tanks come in many shapes and sizes. Not all think tanks are alike. Some are blatantly partisan, some are driven by specific agendas and some tend to be independent and neutral. Funding and ideology often drive their output.

    Think-tank culture is highly developed in the US and Europe. There is often a revolving door between the think-tanks and the government. Officials come to think tanks and think tank researchers take up official assignments. The interaction between the government and the think-tanks is close. The government often uses think-tanks as sounding board for ideas and options while maintaining a distance and deniability. This serves both sides well.

    Indian situation

    In India, think-tank culture is growing slowly. Think tanks are usually small and short of resources. Their output is of uneven quality. Most government departments are shy of sharing information with think-tanks and shun interaction. The culture of secrecy and reluctance to share information is all prevalent. This hampers both sides. Overloaded officials are deprived of well considered, well researched advice while think tanks are left to their own devices often opening themselves to foreign influences. Foreign funding agencies tend to fill the resource gap. Indian research is often valued more abroad than in India. It is a sad commentary that India researchers have to depend upon foreign archival material on issues that pertain to India.

    However, there are encouraging signs of change. MEA’s declassification of 70,000 files is a step forward. But this is still a baby step. More files should be declassified. More government departments should come forward with declassification. The health of our archives must be improved. More resources need to be devoted to preservation of old documents. Incidentally, The IDSA has uploaded the titles of all 70,000 these files on its website, under different headings. This will help improve search of files.


    The IDSA is one of the oldest thinks in the country dealing with strategic affairs. The need for an independent think-tank on strategic issues was felt very strongly after the 1962 Sino-Indian war and the Indo-Pak war of 1965. The IDSA was set up as an independent society in 1965. It was fully funded by the government. This remains the position even today. Since then the think-tank has grown to a premier think-tank of international standards.

    Presently the Institute has about 70 researchers and experts from various disciplines. About half of them have PhDs. The IDSA output covers most key themes of international affairs, international security, India’s foreign policy and national security. The Institute hosts 12 research centres which cover almost all regions and several key issues of international security, foreign policy, defence and national security.

    The institute has a large number of publications including its flagship journal Strategic Analysis which is published by Routledge, London. Last year nearly 22,000 strategic analysis articles were downloaded around the world. Its numerous books, monographs, occasional papers, commentaries, issue briefs, policy briefs, task force reports etc. have gained popularity. With nearly 60,000 books and 300 journal subscriptions, it has one of the largest libraries on international affairs in the country. The Institute’s resources are widely used by researchers and general public around the world. The institute’s vibrant website is a useful resource for researchers. It received 4.9 million hits last month.

    Public Diplomacy

    Even when the phrase was not popular, IDSA actively engaged in public diplomacy. IDSA has contributed in ample measure in the past to national debates on nuclear issues, great power relations, neighbourhood policy, higher defence management, and a host of national security issues. Many of the ideas and themes taken up by the IDSA researchers in the past have -as for instance on the need for higher defence reforms and the need for national security council - directly or indirectly influenced policy makers. IDSA’s outreach included top strategic thinkers around the world. Many of our diplomats, strategic affairs analysts and media persons have been IDSA alumni. Carrying on with the tradition of independent debate, discussion and analysis, the IDSA continues to play an important role in contemporary circumstances.

    The IDSA is playing an important role in public diplomacy. It projects & explains Indian foreign & security policies to outside world in an objective fashion through a variety of publications & interactions. IDSA’s briefings are regularly sought by foreign interlocutors and leading training institutions. Over the years, it has hosted a large number of foreign delegations & provided detailed briefs on these issues.

    The IDSA has also brought out a number of task force reports in the recent past on Climate Change and national security, India’s cyber security challenge, the influence of Buddhism in the Himalayan regions, Nuclear Disarmament, the water dimension in India’s foreign policy, etc. The research agenda at IDSA continues to expand to take on board emerging issues and challenges.

    The IDSA has an elaborate national and international outreach programme. It has signed MOUs of cooperation with about 35 countries around the world including those with the neighbouring countries. IDSA’s research network is wide and expanding.

    The Institute holds a large number of conferences and seminars every year. IDSA’s flagship Asian Security Conference and South Asia Conference are attended by scholars and experts around the world. In addition, it holds numerous thematic national and international seminars to which leading experts from around the world are invited. Next February, the IDSA will hold a three day international conference on Emerging Trends in West Asia and their Regional and Global Implications. Coming November, we will hold our annual South Asia Conference to which scholars and experts from neighbouring countries are being invited. Next month we will hold a national workshop on Kautilya’s thoughts.

    IDSA works closely with the MEA. In the past year or so we had collaborations with MEA’s several divisions including PD, PP&R, Eurasia, DISA, IT, Africa, etc. The Foreign Secretary recently released a book done by IDSA scholars under its neighbourhood programme. The MEA mandate was clear – generate new ideas. We did not stick to the official line. Some of the recent work we have done with MEA’s support include:-

    1. The PoK Project
    2. IOR-ARC Newsletter
    3. Trilateral Dialogue between India South Korea and Japan
    4. MEA-IDSA-IISS Dialogue
    5. International Seminar on Export Controls
    6. National Seminar on Space Security
    7. International Conference on Energy Transportation & Economic Links in Eurasia
    8. India–Africa Strategic Dialogue

    We also do work with several other ministries and departments like the MHA, MOD and the NSCS. There are several proposals under consideration which would fructify in future.


    In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will like to make three main points and one recommendation:

    One, the interaction between think tanks and policy makers should be deepened. This will be mutually beneficial. This is also in national interest. The government will get well considered, well researched policy advice. Think tanks will improve their capacity for policy research. Youngsters will get a chance to work on policy issues and career opportunities. Strategic community will be strengthened. India’s image abroad will become better.

    Two, the IDSA with its long tradition of independent and objective research continues to engage with policy research. It has the critical mass of researches and world class research facilities. IDSA will be an ideal partner for the government, particularly the MEA, on research on policy issues.

    Third, while IDSA-MEA interaction is growing, it is still in preliminary stages and mostly ad hoc. The mutual interaction needs to be enhanced and institutionalised.

    In the end, I would venture to suggest setting up of a joint task force consisting of MEA and the think tank to flesh out the idea which the foreign secretary spoke about – enhancing the partnership between the MEA and the think tanks. The task force could come up with concrete recommendations in this regard.

    Thank you and Jai Hind